Friday, May 25, 2007
Sun-fried and exhausted from a day at a California beach, my aunt handed me the phone and I listened to my mom, on the other end of the line back home in the Midwest, as she told me my best friend's brother had been killed in Vietnam.
1969?? I think. He was a few short days from coming home after a long tour. Wife, new baby. He was the big brother every little sister looks up to. Wild and fun with some fire in his eyes. I helped pack one of the boxes his mom sent off to him every few weeks. Canned cherry pie filling was his favorite. "Don't worry Mom," his last letter said. "They moved me in off the line now since I'm coming home soon. I'm as safe as if I was right there at home with you and Dad."
He came home right on schedule, wrapped in a flag.
Twenty or so years later, I stood on a small town sidewalk and waved goodbye as bus loads of National Guard troops left town, destined for the Middle East and what American History would remember as Desert Storm. It's funny, the one thing I remember about that day was the bright, yellow gloves I was wearing. I stared at them as I waved, knowing that history repeats itself, the timing seemed uncomfortably right. I knew the next time I waved like this, it would likely be at one of my own sons.
As it fell into place, some years later, my son flew out of a military base in California and I didn't get a chance to wave goodbye to him at all. He called me from the airport before he climbed onto the plane that was the start of his journey to Iraq to tell me not to worry and remind me that no matter what happened, he was proud to be an American soldier doing what he felt was right. I remember thinking of all those cans of cherry pie filling as I said goodbye.
At the disconnect of a cell phone began the intolerable echo of defeaning silence, a silence that rang so loud in my ears I couldn't sleep for many nights.
My son came home.
Many did not.
This weekend I will bake him a cherry pie and take time to remember.